The Iowa Public Information Board
COMES NOW, Margaret E. Johnson, Executive Director for the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB), and enters this Revised Dismissal Order:
On May 4, 2021, Laura Belin filed formal complaint 21FC:0037, alleging that the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) violated Iowa Code chapter 22.
Ms. Belin alleged that:
- On December 28, 2020, she submitted two questions to the IDPH along with requests for information regarding strike team visits. For each topic, she asked that the IDPH send “the name of the company and the city and date of each visit.”
- On January 12, 2021, the IDPH provided a redacted version of the strike team calendar. The names of the businesses were redacted pursuant to Iowa Code section 139A.3(2)(c).
- On January 27, 2021, Ms. Belin sent four follow-up questions to the IDPH. Then, on February 3, 2021, she sent two requests for lists of the dates when the state sent resources in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The IDPH provided a comprehensive list responding to this request on April 22, 2021. Ms. Belin then filed five additional questions. On April 26, 2021, IDPH responded that the information requested did not exist in the requested format.
- Between April 26 and 28, 2021, Ms. Belin asked for answers to new questions. The IDPH responded with six new answers to the new questions.
- Ms. Belin alleges that the violation occurred because the most recent records provided were not the same as the information provided in January and because of an unreasonable delay in responding to her questions and record requests.
On June 23, 2021, the IDPH responded to this complaint, stating:
- The initial response was different because the later releases contained updated information, not because erroneous information was initially provided.
- There was no intentional delay in providing the information requested.
- The IDPH was not the lawful custodian of some of the information requested, therefore, the IDPH had to collect the information and create a record for Ms. Belin.
- In addition to the records requested, the IDPH also provided answers to many of Ms. Belin’s questions.
Following this response, Ms. Belin alleged that false information was provided in order to cover up that “...the National Guard was dispatched to companies owned by some of Governor Reynolds’ largest campaign contributors….”
IDPH denied that this was the reason for the additional information released in April.
Before the filing of this complaint, the IPIB received Chapter 22 complaints concerning the IDPH on March 5, 2021, (21FC:0016 and 21FC:0017). Both complaints alleged that the IDPH unreasonably delayed the release of records. Both complaints were accepted on April 15, 2021. As part of the IPIB complaint process, the IDPH has agreed to take steps to address these concerns through an informal resolution process as outlined by Iowa Code section 23.9. 1
The IPIB initially reviewed this Dismissal Order on July 15, 2021, and tabled the complaint to allow the parties to submit additional information concerning the communications between the parties and the time frame for releasing the documents. These responses are incorporated into this Revised Order at Attachment A (IDPH) and Attachment B (Ms. Belin).
Iowa Code section 23.8 requires that a complaint be within the IPIB’s jurisdiction, appear legally sufficient, and have merit before the IPIB accepts a complaint. The IDPH continued to communicate with Ms. Belin from December 2020 until just days before the complaint was filed. During this time, records were released and attempts were made by IDPH to respond to Ms. Belin’s questions in a timely manner. There does not appear to be an unreasonable delay or a lack of response by the IDPH.
Iowa Code section 23.8(2) allows the IPIB to decline to accept a complaint if it relates to a specific incident that has previously been finally disposed of on its merits. While the other complaints are not yet finally disposed of, the concerns posed by all three complaints are being appropriately addressed.
IT IS SO ORDERED: Formal complaint 21FC:0037 is dismissed as legally insufficient pursuant to Iowa Code section 23.8(2) and Iowa Administrative Rule 497-2.1(2)(b).
Pursuant to Iowa Administrative Rule 497-2.1(3), the IPIB may “delegate acceptance or dismissal of a complaint to the executive director, subject to review by the board.” The IPIB will review this Order on August 19, 2021. Pursuant to IPIB rule 497-2.1(4), the parties will be notified in writing of its decision.
By the IPIB Executive Director
Margaret E. Johnson
1. During the time frame of all three complaints, the IDPH was responsible for the testing programs and vaccination programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This event, as well as the substantially increased records requests submitted to the IDPH, contributed to the delays in response times.
CERTIFICATE OF MAILING
This document was sent by electronic mail on the ___ day of August, 2021, to:
Heather Adams, Assistant Attorney General